Christopher John Falcioni ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff
My first “real video game” was “A Bugs Life” for the GameBoy Color. Having to jump over rocks, platform on four-leaf clovers, and defeat the impossibly difficult Hopper was the first gaming experience that I would ever have. I took me quite a while to beat, as in those day one would have to hunt for pixels in order to find a few precious hearts. I soon ventured into one of the most memorable games of my childhood, Magical Quest Starring Mickey and Minnie, a story where you rescued Pluto while moving through a strange land ruled by evil clones of Pete, one of my most memorable gaming memories.
Somehow I hoped that one day a game would come along to match the quality of these games but also somehow surpass them. A true mash-up of Disney characters with Mickey interweaving through them was the dream, like Kingdom Hearts (a very respected Disney/Final Fantasy game series), but somehow with more intermingling of the worlds, more characters, and more to do.
Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion had the chance to do that, but only partially succeeded It’s a game that’s not quite sure whom to be pandering for. As a five-hour game (that clocks in at around ten after serious exploration), it’s incredibly short for what it is and wants for a little more… something. The game banks on nostalgia and snippets of dialogue to keep it going: The game plays just like Magical Quest and even looks like it, taking on the visual style of the GameBoy Advance and playing with similar enemy styles.
The villain and other characters come from the NES game Castle Of Illusion in which a witch named Mizrabel (a shape-shifting witch that takes the form of Sleeping Beauty’s Malificent for much of the game), wishing to be loved again and hankering to take something over, banishes many of our favorite Disney characters to the Wasteland’s Castle Of Illusion, in which she hopes to hide the characters and steal their hearts (that they have because they are so well known and loved) and use that heart power to mount an invasion of Wasteland and the Cartoon World.
As you can imagine, your task is to rescue all the characters (especially Minnie) with the aid of Jiminy Cricket and to break the spell over the Castle of Illusion. The Castle of Illusion gives the illusion of several Disney Classics: Peter Pan, Aladdin, and The Little Mermaid, and allow us to platform in the settings of these worlds. This gives us excellent opportunity to rescue Cinderella trapped in Agrabah, Simba lost in Atlantica, Goofy somewhere in Neverland, and so on. However, it always feels like there’s something lost in the game as the characters simply act as items that occasionally give out quests to find more characters once safe in the castle fortress. There is a serious sense of a lost opportunity in terms of world smashing, especially because it is just these three worlds smashed together, leading to a very short playtime. There’s also a lack of character interplay, and while Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) sends Mickey on a quest to get Tiana (The Princess and the Frog’s Princess) to make her a birthday cake in her castle restaurant, the characters actually never meet: they remain confined to their rooms more like pieces of property than iconic characters.
The other aspect of the game is Mickey’s unique attack styles. Yes, he can bounce on enemies like Mario and spin attack like Crash Bandicoot, but he also wields a paintbrush as in the other Epic Mickey games, and with this he can do many things. The top screen contains bars for Paint and Thinner, which draw and erase the world, respectively. While you can simply shoot the fluids at enemies as a projectile weapons, you must also use paint and thinner to draw in and erase many objects in the world on your bottom screen, moving them up to the top screen to become usable objects. While it sounds cool (and for the first hour of the game it is), when you realize that you need to take about 10 minutes just to draw/erase all the objects in a single level, you begin to get tired of drawing the same few shapes over and over again.
While it is cool to stumble upon characters in random Disney worlds, the problem with the game is that, rather than extending playtime with bonus levels or worlds, the game asks you to continually repeat levels in order to rescue “premium characters” and to complete quests. It gets annoying after a while, especially when there is only one checkpoint per level and you know that you’ll have to draw ten objects just to get to Mushu, THEN play through the remaining half of the level. It feels a bit gimmicky, and while the hiding places are often good, the concept overall stinks of uninventive game play extension. But, at the same time… don’t you want to rescue Mushu?
As a major Disney fan, this is more than likely the reason I spent about ten hours completing every quest possible, spending time to read the reactions characters had to Mickey (My favorite is a tie between Cinderella’s, who isn’t at all phased to see talking mice around her house, and Simba’s, who hints that he wants to eat Jiminy Cricket). But normal people will more than likely finish this game with a LOT of time to spare, not finding it useful to upgrade the character’s rooms nor to go back through difficult levels just to find Snow White’s cleaning supplies. You can tell that this was rushed out either to get it out at the same time as Epic Mickey 2: The Power Of Two or for the Holiday season. There’s even concept art out there featuring an Alice in Wonderland world and hints to major missing characters like Prince Eric and the Blue Fairy. While it might have been a better financial move for the game to come out now, sometimes the game feels as if it is a sketch of a painting that hasn’t been filled in quite yet.